August 10, 2018

Nation-State Law | Arab, Druze, Government and Civil Society Responses


The new Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People is widely perceived within Israel’s Arab society and among shared society organizations as a turning point in Jewish-Arab and state-minority relations and its passage has been met with strong opposition. In an earlier briefing document, the Task Force detailed the discourse for and against the law, and controversy surrounding its substance. This update summarizes Arab and civil-society response in the weeks since its passage; government and political leadership responses in return; and actions taken by shared society organizations.

Druze Community

The first organized and forceful response from within Arab society came from the Druze community—a small (approximately 130,000 people) and distinct subset of Israel’s Arab population—and centered on their ‘blood covenant’ with the State of Israel which includes male participation in Israel’s security forces. Many Druze perceive the law as “an end to the delusion of having a shared fate” and of “equal and shared citizenship” in Israel.’

Druze MKs were the first to file a petition against the law with the High Court of Justice, and Druze mayors and community leaders quickly established a Special Forum Against the Nationality Law, which was joined by 100 Druze IDF reserve officers. Additional Druze criticism came from high-ranking Druze IDF officers, bereaved families, resignations by Druze soldiers, and others. The Forum called for a major demonstration on August 4th in Tel Aviv. Tens of thousands of Jewish, Druze and Arab citizens gathered to hear from prominent Druze and Jewish speakers.

The Druze protest became a focal point for much of mainstream debate in the first couple of weeks, dividing opposition to the law into two main lines of criticism: one based on implications for equal citizenship for all, and another based on rights for non-Jewish citizens who serve in the security forces.

Government leaders including Prime Minister Netanyahu, Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, Minister of Finance Moshe Kachlon, and others who promoted the law quickly acknowledged Druze concerns. PM Netanyahu offered to rectify the omission with additional legislation and an economic development package.

While currently, it looks as though Druze leadership is choosing to reject the offer and to focus on the underlying issue of equal citizenship for all, there is still varied discussion within the Druze community, including critical new voices emerging from younger leadership and Druze women, about whether to accept an offer from the Prime Minister. Minister of Communication Ayoob Kara, a Druze, who supported the law, continues to defend his vote, claiming the law “does not turn [the Druze] into second class citizens.” Kara has been under severe criticism from within the Druze community, and according to reports has even received death threats.

Most leaders in the wider Arab and civil society have come out against any conditions placed on equal citizenship—be it on military service or anything else. Among Bedouin, many of whom also serve in the military and police, some discourse has emerged about acknowledging their service as well.

The Druze protest engaged Israeli security officers not normally vocal in Israeli politics in the debate. Current and former military generals and officers, chiefs of police and other security personnel have come out publicly in support of the Druze and in some cases, all Arab minorities, whose rights they say need to be protected.

Wider Arab Society

Several protests were held in Arab cities and in Haifa, but a unified and coordinated response from Arab leadership has taken longer to formulate. Some say this is a due to initial shock, while others attribute the delay to disagreement and diversity of ideological positions behind the scenes.

On August 7th, in a press conference, the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in Israel along with a coalition of other Arab groups announced the filing of a petition with the High Court of Justice. Mohammed Baraka, chairman of the committee, said that these actions “are in the name of the entire Arab population in Israel, not only a particular party or group.” This is the fifth petition filed against the law in the High Court (others filed by Druze MKs, political party Meretz, Bedouin former IDF officers, and by a group of Arab and Jewish lawyers and academics.)

Additional actions organized by the Arab leadership include daily protests in Arab localities; an emergency Jewish-Arab convention held in Haifa on July 29th; and a major protest in Tel Aviv planned for August 11th. Arab leadership is also pursuing international advocacy against the law via UN High Commissioner for Minority Rights, Dr. Fernand de Varennes, and several embassies. MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) sent a letter to the OECD claiming the nation state law “contradicts the principles of equality and fairness … enables excessive resource allocation to the Jewish majority at the expense of the Arab minority” and thus “goes against the OECD’s recommendations to integrate the Arab minority in education, welfare and employment.”

Meanwhile, many prominent Arab figures have expressed their opposition and disappointment with the law. Former Chief Justice Salim Joubran, who is known for his political restraint, stated he couldn’t keep quiet because “[t]here isn’t a single word about equality in the law.” MK Zohair Bahloul (Zionist Camp) resigned from the Knesset, explaining in a detailed interview how the law was “the last straw in Jewish-Arab relations.” Aiman Saif, the outgoing Director of the Authority for Economic Development of the Arab Sector, who was the responsible for coordinating government economic development strategies for Arab society, warned that the Nation State law “will deal a death blow to a decade of government efforts to promote economic development” for Arab citizens.” Writer Sayed Kashua wrote “Israel does not want to be my state.” TV anchor Lucy Aharish posted a heartfelt video in which she said “we [Arab citizens] are a fact, and we will not be ignored because we demand equality“; Adv. Raghad Jaraisy from the Association of Civic Rights in Israel wrote a piece on “the language you don’t want to hear“; journalist and writer Odeh Bisharat who wrote “those who passed the nation-state law are criminals,” activist Mohammed Darawshe write that “only Jews can stop this disgrace“, among many others.

Government and Political Leadership

There is no unified government response to the wave of public opposition and calls to amend or revoke the law from Arab society. Below is a selection of actions that have been taken by government and political leaders to either address criticism of the law or to affirm the legislation counter to the opposition.

Shared Society Initiatives

Civil society organizations focused on and activists working for shared society have issued statements and taken actions in protest of the legislation. Select examples are provided below.

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How Can We Help?

Do you need support integrating these resources and issues into your philanthropic, communal, or Israel education work? Reach out for consultations, connections to experts, program support, training, or to plan your next event or mission. If you’ve used our resources, tell us about your experience!

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